On October 10, 1973, the Amazin’ New York Mets clinched the National League Pennant in a time of turbulence across America.
It felt like so much was going on in the world that the actual game between the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds on October 10, 1973, would be dwarfed by comparison. The Yom Kippur War was raging in the Middle East, the Watergate saga was a national obsession, and the Vice President of the United States was resigning. Wait, isn’t that Willie Mays coming up?
War, politics, and resignations aside, the Mets and Reds were deciding the National League pennant. It was a Wednesday afternoon—all the playoffs games were in the afternoon and there were no off-days in the best-of-five National League Championship Series.
As the Mets and Reds took the field in New York, Vice President Spiro Agnew made a shocking announcement that he would resign as he pleaded no contest to income tax evasion, the result of $100,00 in bribes taken while governor of Maryland.
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As Willie Mays came to bat with the Mets ahead in the fifth inning, 3-2, a scroll at the bottom of the screen by NBC told of Agnew’s fall. Mays was batting for Ed Kranepool, who had delivered a two-run single in the first inning. Kranepool was starting because the regular right fielder, Rusty Staub, had injured his shoulder slamming into the wall making a brilliant catch in an extra-inning loss to the Reds the previous day.
Reds manager Sparky Anderson—aka “Captain Hook” for his fondness for pitching changes—countered Yogi Berra’s move with Mays by bringing in his third pitcher of Game Five: Cincinnati’s top reliever, right-hander Clay Carroll.
Mays was batting for the first time in a month. He’d hurt his side running into a railing chasing a foul ball in Montreal during the Mets’ remarkable 24-9 finish that took them from last place to first in the NL East. Since then he’d retired and told a packed house at Shea on a night in his honor, “Willie, say goodbye to America.”
Now here he was batting in a crucial spot. “When I walked to the plate I didn’t hear anything,” Mays told Lindsey Nelson in a TV special later that week. “I understand that the people love me around New York, but my main thought there is, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get this run in.’”
Rusty and taking over for Rusty, Mays chopped the ball high off the plate. There was no play. He had gotten the run home. Mays came home himself on a hit by Harrelson. The Mets took a 7-2 into the ninth inning. Tom Seaver was cruising, but the fever pitch of the crowd did him no favors.
There was a tension, maybe the result of the Rose brawl two days before, but the fans were restless. The Reds dignitaries and families were harassed to the point that they were taken off the field through the Cincinnati dugout for their own protection. And the fence along the first-base line collapsed as fans pushed against it waiting to pounce on the field. That was another delay.
Seaver lost his concentration. With one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, Berra signaled for Tug McGraw, who’d pitched 4.1 innings the previous day. he was not rusty. He got Joe Morgan to pop up. When Dan Driessen grounded to first and John Milner flipped to McGraw for the final out, the field was awash in humanity. It was a full-scale riot.
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The 340 policemen and private officers on duty were completely outmanned. As WFAN’s Bob Heussler, a college student at the game that day, recalled years later, “It was like a carpet bombing except it was done by the fans… This was really ugly. It was an unfortunate P.S. to the pivotal moment of 1973.”